NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday ordered an enquiry by the Ministry of External Affairs against passport officers who repeatedly issued passport to Sushil Ansal despite his involvement in the case pertaining to 1997 Uphaar cinema fire which killed 59 people.
Justice Najmi Waziri asked what was so special in this case that the officers issued passport to Ansal when the entire world knew about the Uphaar tragedy and the real estate baron's involvement in the case.
The court noted that Ansal was issued a passport even after his conviction by a trial court in the case in 2007.
The court was informed by senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, appearing for Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy, that Ansal deliberately made false declarations and suppressed material facts about his conviction while applying for additional booklets of passport.
As per the rules, the passport application for new/ re-issue/ replacement of lost/ damaged passport issued by the MEA mandates the applicant to disclose whether he is involved in a criminal case or not and to produce the NOC from the concerned court in case they are involved in any criminal prosecution.
The court said the matter be enquired by an officer of not less than the rank of joint officer in MEA and initial report be submitted in court before the next date, November 15.
The enquiry is to be completed in four weeks.
"The court wants to know how passport was issued in 2000, 2014 and 2013 when the world knew in some way or the other about the Uphaar tragedy and that respondent 4 (Sushil Ansal) was involved in it," the judge said.
The court said it was of the view that the matter be enquired into by the MEA against passport officials who issued the passport.
It noted that early this year, Ansal made an application before the passport authorities declaring his conviction in one case and pendency of two other criminal cases against him.
He claimed that erroneously this information could not be given earlier and apologised after which he was penalised with a fine amount by the authorities, it noted.
The court, however, said it could not have been allowed.
"What was so special in this case that the officer issued passport to him.
Just see the number of deaths caused, gravity of the offence committed.
Are these issues considered by the passport officers or not," the court said.
When the matter first came up, the court was unhappy as the passport officials had not brought complete records despite a specific direction.
The court gave an hour's time and asked the regional passport officer to bring complete file of Ansal.
The passport authorities told the court that Ansal had earlier not disclosed in his applications for additional booklets of passport about conviction or pending criminal cases.
Ansal was issued additional booklets of passport in 2000, 2004 and 2013 and in all these applications, he maintained that he was charged with criminal case or summons or warrants and not convicted by any court in India, the court was told through passport office records.
The passport officer also told the court that in July this year, a short term passport for one year was issued to him.
When a complaint was made by the complainant to the authorities, an enquiry was initiated which found that Ansal was convicted and other cases were pending against him and he surrendered the passport.
However, this was opposed by senior advocate Rebecca John, who appeared for Ansal, saying that as per her instruction, no short term passport was issued to him.
The counsel claimed witch hunting was going on against Ansal.
The court also asked Ansal's counsel to file response to the plea filed by AVUT alleging that he played a fraud on authorities while getting his passport renewed.
The plea alleged that the real estate tycoon held two passports which showed that they were issued and renewed without following the proper procedure and he did not even take NoC from the courts in the past 21 years, during which he travelled abroad extensively.
Krishnamoorthy, who lost two children in the tragedy, has been fighting a legal battle on behalf of the victims' families for the last 20 years.
It was alleged earlier that Ansal was getting his passport renewed every 5-10 years. The plea claimed that Ansal was holding two passports.
The chief metropolitan magistrate (CMM) also noted in an order that his passport number given to the court in 2018 was different from the earlier one mentioned in 2008.
However, the CMM failed to issue directions for inquiry regarding the glaring deficiency, it alleged.
"Sushil Ansal has played a fraud upon all the criminal courts and has not taken 'no-objection certificate' from any of the courts in the past 21 years and travelled abroad extensively.
He did not even take NoC from the Supreme Court during the pendency of his appeal in the main Uphaar fire tragedy case during the period January 30, 2009 - August 19, 2015" the plea said.
The plea sought setting aside of trial court's January 8 and May 2 orders dismissing the association's similar application.
The apex court had last year asked Gopal Ansal to undergo the remaining of one-year jail term in the case, while his elder brother Sushil Ansal got relief from incarceration with a prison term already undergone by him in view of age-related complications.
A fire at the Uphaar cinema during the screening of Hindi film 'Border' on June 13, 1997 had claimed 59 lives.